The Night Guy Series
Part 7 - Concerning the Hypothalmus, the
graveyard shift and the state of things
The graveyard shift can wreak havoc
on the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus, by way of sudden and
unexpected secretions, can then pass that same havoc on to a body,
psyche and social life. Studies conducted on Black Jack dealers,
swing shift miners, and convenience store clerks, occupations where
intermittent sleepless nights are the norm, have revealed that when
hypothalami are robbed of the chance to shut down and recharge on
something of a regular basis, endless and subtle unpleasantness can
result. They may span from hot flashes, lethargy, and despondency or
head all the way towards homicidal, prayer recital, and suicidal,
tendencies. Nate can vouch for all this. It seems the glands crave a
semblance of routine even as the mind warns against it.
experience with the graveyard shift came when he took a job at a
poorly managed yet immensely popular Tennis and Swim Club called The
White Dove of the Desert. The Dove was overseen by one Ms. EquiAnne
Crabbe. Ms. Crabbe was a matriarchal henpecker, brain washed by so
many warring self help groups and EST seminars that she had long
ago forfeited any hope of functioning in any normal capacity. Her
husband, it is said, disappeared with one of their maids and most of
their money leaving her little except ownership of the Dove and a
large, secluded dwelling that stood just off the club's grounds
which was where she lived. The proximity of the house, which nobody
Nate knew had ever been inside of, made it ridiculously easy for her
to come creeping through a back gate at all hours of the day or
night, to use the facilities and check up on things. Her property
seemed to be guarded by a cacophony of baying hounds, forever heard
but never actually seen. She kept the Dove open around the clock to
fit her own psychoneurotic schedule.
Nate had taken the job during a
time when he was mulling over some new life choices which involved
dropping out of college and overseeing his own learning, and since
he was fairly sure that neither of his parents would agree to
finance an education that didn't have an accredited institution at
least titularly associated with it, he began looking for ways to
earn his own keep. Nate had a group of friends whose parents were
members of the White Dove and he would periodically accompany them
to the bar when they offered to charge a few pitchers of beer on the
family account. While his friends leered at debutantes and dreamed of being
lifeguards, Nate found that he was curiously observing the night
guys who would just be coming on shift as the bar was closing up.
Nate envied them not because they cut fine figures or looked in any
way impressive, in fact they were unanimously the most ghostly
collection of tousled, anti-social employees you could expect to
find at an expensive health club. Exuding from their disheveled
personas however, was that certain affected mental calm found in
folks who, though they have identified the world as being an off
kilter and heinously unjust place to live, have figured out that as
long as one retains a certain cynicism about everything, and professes a smug foothold,
everything can be seen as copasetic. This confuses others of course since there is
no apparent evidence to support this attitude in their lifestyles or
accomplishments. Nate never saw one of these night guys doing
anything other than sitting back, listening to music with their feet
propped up and reading subversive literature. This seemed like a job
description he could work with as it represented getting paid for
doing what he had been spending most of his time lately doing
anyway. In fact Nate had coveted something along the same lines
since it had become clear that he wasn't getting any trust fund and
would have to work for his keep someday.
Nate was drinking in the
club bar one night with a few of the aforementioned friends and
feeling a little bolder than usual as he came down the stairs to
find one of the night guys reclining behind the front desk with his
moccasin clad feet hanging over a stack of folded towels. He wore
that same vapid expression seen on casino employees, beat cops,
night watchmen, toll booth attendants, mini-mart clerks, and others
forced to perform in the public view with little or no sleep. His
chin was in his hand and his elbow rested on an impressive stack of
"How's it going," Nate offered, testing the
waters. "Working hard?" The night guy didn't smile or say
anything, but looked Nate over coolly from just above his wire rims
as if he suspected that Nate might not be a paying member and
therefore posed him no risk.
"Doesn't look like a bad way to
earn a buck," Nate tried again.
"That's about what I'm
making." The night guy took his chin out of his hand and itched
the beginnings of a beard.
"Well at least you don't have to do
"Oh she gets what she pays for, believe me.
I've done worse for less and probably will again." said the
night guy, tilting back his head and peering beneath his glasses
with bloodshot eyes to make a closer examination of the irritant
before him. "Specially now that I've joined the goddamn
army." He added this rather suddenly as if he was short of
"What? The army?" Nate said in surprise as his
inflated image of night guys lost a little air. "I didn't
envision graveyard folk as the type to join armies.
you talking about?" The night guy said leaning forward.
"The graveyard shift was first dubbed as such by the very army
you malign. In World War II it was, by the night watchmen at the
munitions dumps. Most people know that. If you insist on standing
before me and talking, I'll at least have to ask you to give more
consideration to what you say."
"I guess that makes sense," Nate said,
realizing that there could be more polished ways to make friends
than insulting a man at a time when he's just signed on a dotted
line that effectively forfeits his freedom. Nate tried to recover.
"At least you're reading Soldier of Fortune."
guy flipped the magazine over and seemed surprised by the cover
which pictured a maniacal, soot stained character peering out of
some foliage and looking as if he were a Luftwaffe pilot who had
been forced to eject from his Sopwith Camel only to find himself
somewhere in Harlem. The night guy put the magazine on the floor,
balled his fists, and rubbed his eyes in a manner that looked
practiced. "Yeah I guess I was reading Soldier of Fortune, I
gotta get prepared for basic training somehow. I even tried to eat
some meat the other day. Tossed it up immediately though."
"Meat?" Nate asked.
"Yep, threw it right up. I've
been a vegetarian for seven years you know." He looked woefully
down at his gut.
"Well what's stopping you from..."
"Oh come on. Do you think they're going to tolerate that shit
in the army mess halls. If I don't learn to eat meat again I'll
barely eat at all."
"Why did you say you joined
"I had to do something. I'm twenty nine now and
needed to get in soon in order to qualify for the officer's
"Don't you need a degree?" Nate asked,
hoping to seem interested. He'd known people before who had lost all
hope of ever being able to discipline themselves and signed on with
some branch of the service.
"Oh I have a degree," said the
night guy nonchalantly. "Two in fact, with some post grad work
thrown in but how far is comparative literature or philosophy going
to get me these days? Nobody gives a damn about any kind of
literature anymore for one thing, so why would they want it compared
to another culture's literature which they don't give a damn about
either. I wish I could stay in school but I just can't afford it.
The humanities are dead today anyway. Everything is computers,
communication, and new technology this and that. I probably should
have studied engineering or something but I hate that shit."
"True, true you know, geez" Nate stuttered, not knowing
what to say. "I think I'm facing a little of the same stuff
myself," He finally added feebly. "Say, you must be
quitting this job soon then. I could really use something like this,
a job where I could just read all the time. I'm up half the night as
"Oh I'm quitting alright. I couldn't very well
commute over here at night from Fort Dix or Ord or where ever it is that the spit
shiners are sending me. So I'll be quitting. Unless I get stationed
at Fort Lowell."
Fort Lowell is one
of Tucson's oldest streets and dates to the days of the
Conquistadors when it was a wagon trail running past an adobe fort
that housed the U.S. Calvary and Nate laughed politely at the
reference. The night guy's manner seemed to have cooled a bit since being asked
about the job and Nate figured it was because he had inadvertently
reminded him that he was headed for one of those major life changes
that hadn't really hit him yet. Most people face some future
unpleasantness that they don't want to think about.
would I talk to about working here? I'd probably want to get my name
in before your big induction day." Nate tried to sound cheerful
but the night guy seemed annoyed as he jotted Ms. Crabbe's name on a
slip that had "Discuss Lost Towels" written on the other
side. According to the night guy, Crabbe usually came in to swim early in the morning.
Without saying anything else, he reassumed the pose, and picked a
new magazine from the stack. Nate noticed it was a Mother Jones.
"Thanks," Nate said heading for the door. "Maybe I'll
see you in the morning."
Nate overslept and never saw the night guy again
but got the job and did his best to carry the night guy baton.
Nate's responsibilities, as it turned out, included a few rote
accounting type tasks and towel washing but the whole thing boiled
down to basically staying awake and making sure that nobody
trespassed or damaged the facility in any way. The Dove was kept open
twenty four hours a day to support Ms. Crabbe's aforementioned
neurosis and because it was cheaper to pay a guy like Nate a few
bucks to sit around all night then it was to hire a night watchman,
as well as get someone to be responsible for shutting everything down, locking
all the doors, closing all the gates, turning off the lights and
then someone else to reopen everything in the morning. The bar
usually stayed open until eleven or so and other than the night
janitors, a few members who worked as bartenders or waiters and came
in after work to exercise and unwind, or the odd inebriated couple
stumbling in to use the hot tubs or steam room, Nate had the place
pretty much to himself.
Nate survived manning that graveyard shift
for nearly two years before he was fired, or that is before he
burned down the club, assumed he would be fired and stopped showing up for work. He stayed
with it that long because he hated looking for jobs more than he
hated not sleeping at night and providing he could keep his eyes
open, was able to read for eight or nine hours at a stretch. Nate
looked at the whole experience as an opportunity at being paid to
absorb what he could of the canon. He got his hands on a copy of
this list of outstanding and essential literature for the college
graduate and started plowing through it, checking off books as he
read them. One by one.
Nate's romantic view of the graveyard
lifestyle quickly evaporated when he ended up not dropping out of
school and for the first year, which was his sophomore year,
although at state universities anymore, yearly designations are
hardly worth mentioning, he worked every other night and continued
to attend classes during the day. He figured that he was young
enough to fool his body with denial, work his ten hour shift, clock
out at eight a.m., stumble into the Arizona sunshine and head to
school just like he'd had a good night's rest. This plan failed,
needless to say, and Nate ended up somnambulating the year away, a
shell of his former self with what felt like a constant sinus
His irregular schedule soon had him nodding off when he
was supposed to be alert and sitting bolt upright when he should
have been sleeping. It seemed necessary as well to up his intake of
caffeine and alcohol in order to accelerate the process of landing
and taking off, a trap which only served to heighten his
deterioration as the residual effects of the two drugs played
tug-o-war with his system. Since fatigue had rapidly gained the
upper hand, he fulfilled a boyhood dream by training himself to chew
tobacco without vomiting in order to give the stimulant side of
things a little added support.
One night, after a few months had
gone by, Nate had ducked away from work on a nightly sojourn to the
Quik Mart up the street for coffee, a bag of Levi Garrett, a
magazine, or whatever else he craved or thought might help him get
by. As he walked in, he paused and found himself staring with awe
into the sallow pallor of a poor cadaverous bastard with Stu etched on his
cockeyed nametag who, like Nate was spending the wee hours on the
time clock. A glass display case separated the two of them and Stu
seemed too tired to notice as Nate regarded him with a curious pity.
Suddenly, as the addled worker bent down to retrieve the Penthouse that had slid
out of his hands when he nodded off, Nate found the attendant's pasty countenance replaced in the glass with his own reflection. Stu
eventually righted himself, and Nate was able to focus in and out
from Stu's face to his own and grew quickly disturbed by the eerie
similarity. He realized some changes needed to be made.
So when the
spring semester had ended and the summer heat began to swelter, Nate
decided to institute what the few friends he had left soon dubbed,
"the troglodyte approach". He moved out of a
multi-roommate house and into a studio apartment. He put tin foil
over the windows, kept the swamp cooler on high, and made an effort
to stay up nights, and sleep days, whether he was working or not.
Sleeping away the dark hours, he reasoned was a tradition born of
man's pre-electricity need to see what he was doing and in a day in
age of fluorescent lighting, 24 hour bank machines, gas stations,
and convenience stores, Nate felt it was a tradition he could easily
eschew. He learned quickly however that for a troglodyte not lucky
enough to have access to a true cave, buttressed on three sides by
solid granite and hidden high in the hills, sleeping uninterrupted
while the rest of the world is awake borders on the impossible.
Unplug the phone and the doorbell rings. Hang a Do Not Disturb sign
on the door but the neighborhood kids still carry on. Construction
hammers, trash pick up, Machinery with back up warning devices that
pierce the air like alarm clocks, buddies that drop by simply to be
obnoxious, and those backpack, Ghostbuster, dust blowing machines
that sound like chain saws and seem to be brandished by mechanical
fiends with oily rags in their ears completely oblivious to the
racket they make who have been ordered to blow dust and leaves from
one place to another by bosses sitting in an office somewhere
totally removed from the resulting din.
Eventually it became clear
that no healthy solution existed and, like many people seem to do in
their lives, Nate simply slogged on through the murk the best he
could by watching late night movies on cable, napping in class, and
being unable to concentrate on anything except the reading he took
with him to work. By the time of his departure from the Dove, he had
become so addled by his schedule, yet addicted to the time he had to
read, that he stumbled through his days in the fictional world of an
inebriated zombie. The friends that he hadn't lost complete contact
with would shake their heads when they ran into him and suggest that
he reevaluate his lifestyle or at the very least, start sleeping at work.
weird ethical reason though, he never could nap on the clock. Just enough happened with
insomniac members, telephones, and janitors that it wouldn't have
been worth it. Nate was living poorly but at least it took almost no
effort. He was making minimum wage.
Minimum wage incidentally, was
stubborn during the Reagan years and at 3.35 an hour, lagged sadly
behind the only corresponding monetary measure that, at least in
Nate's mind, it had any responsibility to keep abreast with, namely
the average price of a pitcher of beer. At the pubs, dives and
sports bars that Nate wandered into, which had in common good
jukeboxes, bad lighting, and free popcorn, a pitcher ran a fellow
right around four dollars. When the economic forces in society don't
view a good sized pitcher of cheap draft at the corner bar as equal
in value to an honest hour of work Nate figured that the time may well
be nigh for shouting in the streets. Not being much of the shouting
kind, he eventually succumbed to the growing pressure to adjust for
the discrepancy in other ways, and it was this very thinking which
led indirectly to the events of New Year's Eve.
troglodytic existence had delivered him to this strange place in
life, because his parents, for the most part, were only around
monetarily, because his high school girlfriend had left him for good
when she accepted that he had accepted a nocturnal existence,
because he conducted any business he had at convenience stores and
bars whose chief attraction was that they stayed open and unchanged
365 days a year, and because he conversed almost exclusively with
janitors, night watchmen, and other warped and wan creatures of the
night, what would commonly be known as the holiday season of 1985
was having virtually no effect on him.
So between the Thanksgiving
encounter with Hugo and New Year's Eve, Nate had nothing better to
do then immerse himself in goliards. He had soon read everything he
could find about them, had sent away for other books, and in the
mean time investigated any contemporary stuff he came across that
seemed similar in style. Nate sensed that he was preparing for
something. A new life. A new calling. Any life. Any calling, and
even though he had no real idea of what the coming change might
entail, his situation was as ripe for it as situations get.